On a regular working day, my role as the Inclusion Director is to ensure my staff team and learners have access to the support and resources they need to exceed their aspirations and progress into meaningful career development and lives. We have a large support team, supporting 1200+ learners, apprentices and staff across 5 college sites.
As no doubt you have all noticed, we don’t seem to have had a regular working day for many weeks! In fact, my new regular day is at my makeshift desk in the kitchen, wearing a Bluetooth headset and resisting the urge to identify as a Madonna tribute act!
Very early on in the planning and response to our now legendary, sector-wide shift to home working, leading, teaching and supporting, the Inclusion Leadership Team and I decided that communication was the key to us “getting through this”. Daily Leadership meetings were convened, key messages were then to be cascaded to the 170+ strong wider Inclusion team. A blend of informal catching up, formal messages and collegiate support became the norm. In addition, we established a weekly meeting with the full team – via Microsoft Teams.
As a reflective practitioner, whether that is in my teaching practice, leadership development or how I communicate, this weekly team meeting with 160+ attendees has provided a wealth of food for thought. The feedback from my leadership team was that our staff were doing a superb job, BUT overworking, feeling responsible for learner engagement, responding to the midnight messages from learners and families and, all this as we were all shocked and worried about the world around us. When preparing for our first meeting coincidence delivered me a great TED Talk by Jaz Ampaw-Farr; her piece spoke to me and encapsulated how I felt about my team – They are my everyday heroes.
Inspired – I sent them all a link prior to the meeting and asked if they could find the time would they watch it? I delivered a presentation to the team, other leaders in our provision shared stories and I explained to the group they were my everyday heroes. And … I had to mute my microphone as I cried! Fortunately, I made a swift recovery, styled it out and no one knew (or so I thought!). The weeks rolled on and each Wednesday we met and celebrated the magic of support, the progression of our learners and their emerging resilience. (Each week I cried afterwards!)
Fast forward a few weeks… the team had shared video clips of themselves clapping for our NHS. Each week I clapped for the NHS and my key workers!
The week before half term I presented lots of learner feedback, positive messages from parents and our supporting local authorities, you may be able to guess … Yep, I cried. Not a subtle discreet tear but some big heaving sobs, I muted the microphone, this time lots of voices asked if I was ok. After a moment of composure, I carried on and the team gave themselves a huge round of applause.
My reflections are:
No one really knows what’s going on in our lives and then when we throw a pandemic and global crisis into the mix who knows how we will act.
But I have found strength in my accidental vulnerability. My immediate team virtually gathered around me in the moment, my wider team sent emails of support, cards and even delivered Indian and Greek snacks to my doorstep (my food weaknesses are well known in the team!) Others in the team contacted their managers to say they too were struggling and finding things a challenge, so we could support each other!
How we will all take forward this experience into our “new normal” for our Centre for Excellence in SEND offer to the sector. I hope our activities and outputs support you as sector-based practitioners to be brave and make good choices for yourselves and our learners. Our intention remains to work creatively and innovatively to support personalised curriculum development for learners. We will continue to develop our online webinars and workshops and plan future activities with you working to meet the Quality Improvement objectives to improve employability and life outcomes for our learners with SEND!
And if we are brave and compassionate in our work and lives imagine how powerful that can be for our learners, our families and our friends … It’s ok, not to be ok!